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Buy This, Not That: 8 Easy Swaps to Save Money and the Earth

Published
By Lou Carlozo, Green Dad columnist for dealnews

As far back as the Garden of Eden — the original eco-friendly paradise — life has boiled down to a series of choices. Go down one path, and you’ll have happy days romping around to your heart’s content; take the other, and what looks like a tasty apple one minute turns into a terrible miscue the next.

With our everyday consumer choices we need not fear the wrath of a higher being, though we do have Mother Nature to worry about. In that spirit, Green Dad presents eight simple alternatives to common household purchases that will have your carbon footprint shrinking in no time.

1) Don’t Buy Bottled Water, Get a Tap Water Filter.
As often as I mention it here, the waste propagated by bottled water sales continues unabated. TreeHugger.com states that approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil — enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year — are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns even more oil. What’s more, tap water is often held to more stringent purity standards than bottled water, which is often just tap water in disguise. Yet bottled water usually costs 10,000 times as much as tap water. Yikes.

The easy solution? Buy a water purifier for your tap. I use the PUR System, and I’m quite happy with it. The PUR 3-Stage faucet mount goes for as little as $32 at Soap.com, and each interchangeable filter treats up to 100 gallons of water and removes 99.99% of cysts, cryptosporidium, giardia and total trihalomethanes.

2) Don’t Buy Standard Paper Plates and Cups, Get Solo Bare.
Obviously, the ideal choice in terms of any green party would involve reusable utensils, plates and cups. But sometimes that isn’t practical or possible; imagine doing all the dishes for a massive family reunion picnic.

For times like those, I recommend the Solo Bare line, with products made using recycled, recyclable, compostable or renewable materials. The offerings include plastic cups made with 20% recycled PET; compostable plates, bowls and take-out containers made from sugarcane (bagasse), an annually renewable resource; and compostable paper cups made with 100% renewable resources for hot and cold uses. You can buy a complete line of Solo Bare products at amazon.com, usually for the lowest prices available.

3) Don’t buy Styrofoam Packing Peanuts, Get Starch Peanuts.
The evils of polystyrene packing peanuts, marketed by Dow Chemical under the trade name Styrofoam, have been known for some time. Polystyrene is produced using a chemical called benzene, which is a known human carcinogen. In fact, nearly two dozen cities in the U.S. have banned the use of polystyrene for food packaging. What’s more, polystyrene takes a long time to break down in the environment and is potentially harmful to animals. Instead, why not pack that box with starch-based peanuts? Shoplet offers these eco-friendly peanuts. I love that you can wash these suckers down the sink, and never have them menace your floors with dirt, or your arms with static-peanut cling.

4) Don’t Buy Just Any Laundry Detergent, Get Natural Products.
Not everything comes clean in the wash, especially the environment. Laundry detergents add lots of chemicals to our ecosystem, including phosphates and petroleum-based ingredients. If you want to wash your clothes using a more eco-friendly product, Seventh Generation Natural 2X Concentrated Liquid Detergent costs about the same as regular detergents and works in standard or HE washers. (There’s a 4X variety, too.)

Seventh Generation uses vegetable-based cleaning agents instead of petroleum-based compounds to clean clothes, which may appeal to eco-conscious consumers. This detergent, which is sold in liquid or powder forms, also works in both standard and high-efficiency washing machines (one ounce is the recommended amount in HE washers). In comparison tests, Seventh Generation falls in the middle when it comes to cleaning, but for many, the slight loss in performance is an acceptable tradeoff for a green detergent. It’s also available in two scents as well as a Free & Clear formula (which contains no dyes or fragrances) for those with sensitive skin.

5) Don’t Buy Just Any Red Meat, Get Grass-Fed Beef.
I usually steer clear (no pun intended) of food products in this column, but here I’ll make an exception. My fellow meat eaters get a lot of scorn from vegetarians and vegans for our flesh-eating habits, some of it founded. But since I’ve discovered Tallgrass Beef, I’m feeling a lot better about my appetite for red meat. Developed by TV news impresario Bill Kurtis, Tallgrass Beef is humanely raised, environmentally friendly and much better for you than regular meat — containing 10 times as much Vitamin A, three times as much Vitamin E, and a much higher density of those crucial Omega 3 fatty acids. And you can’t beat the taste. If Tallgrass Beef isn’t readily available where you live, consider the grass-fed varieties sold at stores such as Whole Foods.

6) Don’t buy Incandescent Lightbulbs, Get Fluorescents.
The standard incandescent bulb doesn’t last very long — about 750 hours or more — and uses a lot of electricity compared to its spiral, fluorescent counterpart. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if every U.S. household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent, it would prevent 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road. What’s more, you’ll realize a savings of $30 in energy costs over the life of each regular bulb you replace. Fluorescents also last 10,000 hours or more, which means less craning to change bulbs in awkward spots. To get the skinny on the best-rated brands, check out these ratings from Real Simple. You can pick them up in bulk from places like Home Depot for about $2 a bulb.

7) Don’t buy Trash Bags, Get Recycled Trash Bags.
Sure, it sounds odd to buy a recycled bag when it’s going in the trash anyway. But according to the Environmental Literacy Council, our planet consumes between 500 billion and 1 trillion trash bags a year. Paper or plastic, a new bag means tapping into precious natural resources. Recycled bags by contrast save on petroleum and timber consumption, and offer the added advantage of being biodegradable. For the kitchen our friends at Real Simple recommend Perf Go Green Extra Large Tall as the most eco-friendly; a dozen will set you back $4.50.

8) Don’t buy Nickel-Cadmium Rechargeable Batteries, Get Nickel-Metal Hydride.
Sometimes, we make bad choices trying to do good things. Such is the case with rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries (NiCd), which to me represent the spawn of all electronic evil. They not only drain easily, they’re also banned in Europe because cadmium is so hazardous. Instead, stick with the newfangled NiMH batteries, which come close to alkaline batteries for shelf life. You’re going to need a charger, too, so I love this deal, which gives you 2 AA Sony batteries and the charger for $7, shipping included.



Lou Carlozo is dealnews' new Green Dad columnist. He was most recently the managing editor of WalletPop.com and, before that, a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter— @LouCarlozo63. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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6 comments
rc71
Somethings are cheap up front but end up costing you a lot more in the future. The easiest to see is something like CFL vs Incandesnt bulbs. Others are more complicated since they use resources that will will have to pay back in other ways later. (Usually taxes or fees)
Thanks for the article and it's suggestions.
gimmeabreak
Seems pretty simple to skip over stuff you don't agree with.
cs85b03
I agree with #2,3,5,7 costing more, but I have been using ECOS detergent for over a year. I get it from Sam's club and, surprisingly, it is one of the cheapest per load. 210 loads for either $11 or $12, I can't recall. Cleans my clothes better than any of the big brands that aren't environmentally friendly, and my it doesn't break down your clothes like traditional detergents.

I used to use the recycled paper cups for coffee and loved them. I can't find them in bulk anywhere now. They kept the coffee warmer than any other paper/Styrofoam cup and I didn't feel bad about using them. They used to be $7 for 50 cups and lids, but I haven't seen them for over a year.

For #3, why not just use your recycled newspapers? I have been using them for packing for years. I guess it's only environmentally friendly if the person who receives them recycles, though.
BrentWesterfield
I have to agree with retailpoor, I don't come on here so people can tell me what to do. I just want cheap stuff. Granted, the water bottle tip, for example - that's solid. But everything else on this list is about spending MORE money. I can't believe dealnews is spending the ad revenue I help provide by visiting to pay for this kind of thing.

I'd like to know where Lou gets off writing this kind of crap, really. #2, 3 and 4, for example. The only evidence of these products "greenness" is their manufacturer's claims. Are we really to believe that the long-term farming process required to raise the ingredients for these products is LESS harmful than what it takes to eek a little more out of an already-established plastic mine?

#5 is my favorite, though. It says clearly that Lou is a columnist...not a dietitian. So why is he giving health and diet advice? And, better question, why is Dealnews allowing...not even allowing, PAYING someone to MASQUERADE as a health professional when they even admit they're not??

As far as the recycled products, Lou, you might be interested to know that in most cases, recycling is more harmful to the environment that not recycling would be. You should check out this article from the New York Times (which personally I think outranks the Chicago Tribune):
http://www.nytimes.com/...ecycling-is-garbage.html

Also, given your mention of "carbon footprint", you might be interested to know something your friends at GreenPeace aren't telling you. And I can't say this loud enough, caps lock just doesn't do it justice.
***GLOBAL WARMING STOPPED 8 YEARS AGO.***
dealguy
I disagree with @retailpoor in that if I'm someone who wants to be green, and I can save money doing it, then I'd like to know about it. The problem with these "8 Easy Swaps to Save Money" is that #2, 3, 4, 5, 7 don't actually save you money but cost more. A LOT more.
retailpoor
I dislike these eco-stories. I come here to check out deals, not be persuaded to be "green". If something is more efficient and costs less, sure mention it, but these "eco" products are usually nothing more than marketing ploys.
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